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The Waterback

Despite its name, the waterbuck is not truly aquatic nor as much at home in water and swamps as is the sitatunga or lechwe. It does, however, take refuge there to escape predators.

About The Waterback

Parks Where Found

Physical Characteristics

  • The waterbuck is a large, robust animal
  • Males are generally about 25 percent larger than the females.
  • Waterbucks have large, rounded ears and white patches above the eyes, around the nose and mouth and on the throat.
  • Only the males have horns, which are prominently ringed and as long as 40 inches.
  • The waterbuck has a shaggy brown-gray coat that emits a smelly, oily secretion thought to be for waterproofing.

Natural Environment

As its name would indicate, the waterbuck inhabits areas that are close to water in savanna grasslands, gallery forests and riverine woodlands south of the Sahara. Such habitats not only provide sustenance but long grasses and watery places in which to hide from predators.


The waterbuck is mainly sedentary and territorial. Young males form bachelor herds; as they get older, they become more attached to their land and less attached to the herd.

Female herds are so loosely formed that it may be better to view their social structure as a group of individuals with overlapping home ranges. Females also are more attached to land rather than to a male, consequently it is in a male’s favor to have a larger territory in order to come into contact with females.


The waterbuck is more water-dependant than domestic cattle, and must remain close to a water source. However, this habitat furnishes waterbuck with a year-round source of food. Mainly grazers, they consume types of coarse grass seldom eaten by other grazing animals and occasionally browse leaves from certain trees and bushes. They feed in the mornings and at night, and rest and ruminate the remainder of the time.

Predators and Threats

  • Habitat loss
  • Carnivores like lions, cheetahs, leopards, hyenas

Facts for Fun

  • The meat of older waterbuck takes on an unpleasant odour from the waterproofing secretions of its sweat glands, prompting predators to choose other prey.
  • If the defessa and common waterbucks have bordering ranges they often interbreed; as a result, some scientists consider the two groups as a single species.

Male Kudu


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